Aaron, 36, was born in Abilene, Texas, but grew up in Skiatook, Oklahoma, from the age of three. A Welding Instructor on the evening shift, Aaron joined Tulsa Welding School in November 2022.
Thanks for your time, Aaron. How long have you been welding?
I started welding at a technical college in 2004, so I guess that’s 19 years now, I graduated in 2005.
Can you share some of your work experience?
The first company I started with came to my trade school for a career day. I think our students will be familiar with this because we have career fairs regularly at Tulsa Welding School. I gave this company my résumé and filled out an application. I did a mock interview, and as soon as I graduated, they called me. I answered, and went to work with Linde Engineering in a big fab shop.
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I bombed my weld test. I mean I blew it, I failed it, but they hired me anyway! I started working in their structure shop building I-beams and big skids; some pretty big stuff. They had everything there: vessels, piping, they had every bay. An assembly bay, a paint bay. I worked there for about two years and went through every one of their programs. I went through their structural department, and I went into their vessel department. I went into their piping department. I ended up being a pretty good welder through their training program. Within two years I was working in piping.
My second job was at another fab shop that was closer to home with better pay. It was a smaller shop called Lewis Industries. I worked there, making more money, for about a year. Then an opportunity came along to travel and build oil tanks for Matrix. I traveled for close to six years building oil tanks on the road, getting paid pretty good money. That was one of my favorite jobs, honestly.
If you enjoyed it and were making good money, why did you leave Matrix?
Thinking back, the main reason I quit is I’d had a kid and gotten married; I wanted to stay home and all that stuff. After I came home, I went back to work for Lewis Industries again for another year, the shop that I worked for before I took the Matrix job. I worked there for about two years in total. Then I went to work for Worldwide Air Coolers for four and a half years. I was the lead man there. Then some opportunities came up for me to do contract and piece work. I worked for several companies at the same time. I did that contract/piece work until I got hired here at Tulsa Welding School last year.
For those who don’t know, what’s piece work?
Piece work is when you get paid by the part, by the piece. You don’t get an hourly rate. I worked at a local shop; it was actually on a farm. The grandpa owned the farm, and his son had a really nice weld shop in the back. They had a brake, a lathe, a punch, a big shear. We built safe rooms. I‘d get paid by the safe room, or depending on how many people worked with me doing it, I’d get paid to build a door, I’d get paid to build a side wall. I’d get paid to clean it, paid to paint it; I’d get paid separately to install it. With piece work, if you aren’t working, you aren’t making money. Taking a break, sitting on my phone, if I did that, I’m just sitting at work for no reason, not getting paid. I feel that made a really hard worker out of me.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Honestly, I was one of those kids who was unsure. I thought about being a police officer. I thought about construction. It’s a small town, so there’s a lot of people working in construction; that’s what I saw around me, so those were my role models. I really had no idea. I was one of those kids!
Why did you decide to go into teaching last year?
I was looking for a job because the hustle and bustle of the contract work was getting to me. It was a lot of heavy, heavy lifting all day long. I was sweating all day, but no matter what I had to get this done…boom, boom, boom. If I took a break, I was behind. I was looking at Indeed and saw an ad for welding school instructor, and I applied. Honestly, I always wanted to start a welding school of my own. I’ve taught several people how to weld, and naturally I’ve been taught myself working at several different jobs. I’ve been a lead man, and being a lead, I got to teach several people and I still stay in contact with them. You build a really tight bond with some of the people you teach. I really enjoyed it. One of the guys was actually my reference for my job at Tulsa Welding School! I taught this guy how to weld and he’s one of the top welders that I know!
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
I can really get to know my students. I get to see them coming in mad, coming in sad. I get to talk to them, feel how their day is going. But then I also get to see their progression. I teach several phases. I teach them in the beginning phases, then I see them again toward the end of their program. I get to see their progress. I work the evening shift, so even if I’m not teaching the phase that they’re in, I’m always there throughout their evening. They always come talk to me, even if they are not in my class at that time. That’s nice, and it’s also nice to see just people progressing.
Tell me something most people don’t know about you.
People won’t know that I’m a three-wheeler enthusiast. At one time I had 12 three-wheelers, and just about every one of them ran. I used to take all my nieces and nephews out riding. We’d load up six or seven of them and a dirt bike or two, and we’d all just go riding and barbecuing for the day. I only have two of them now, so I’ve really dwindled down. But I’ve picked up a four-wheeler, and a dirt bike instead that my four kids ride too. I work on all that stuff. We’ve got a tractor, a dirt bike, a four-wheeler, I’ve got a 1980 Camaro. I’m just kind of a hobbyist, I guess, always with some kind of tool in my hand.
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
I’d say Einstein. I think all those old physicists were a little misunderstood. We don’t really know exactly what kind of characters they all were. I think that would be pretty fun to talk with Einstein. Just because I’m one of those tinkering guys, I like to build things. I’d like to dig into his mind just a little bit.
Tell us about your family, Aaron.
Savannah and I have been married for four years. It was our anniversary last month. I have one daughter from my first marriage; she’s 11. She stays with her mom during the week, goes to school in her town, which is one town over, and then I get her every weekend. I also have three stepsons; I’ve loved being their stepdad for the six years we’ve been together. The boys are aged 14, 10, and nine.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you’d give to new students just starting out?
My biggest piece of advice is to just jump in and do it. Run exactly what we want you to do. Jump in there and give it everything. Don’t be afraid. Once you’re in school, stay busy. When I was in school, I just remember staying in my booth. I honestly remember that. It frustrates me sometimes when I see some students just hanging out, talking, not doing anything. If you’re not in your booth, you’re not learning.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask the instructors questions. Some students are scared to come talk to us. Yeah, we might have a grumpy face on, I get told that I have a grumpy face all the time by my students. I might look kind of grumpy, but I honestly am not; I’m probably in the best mood of the day. Don’t be scared to come talk to us. We have so much knowledge that we just want to spill out. We naturally walk up and down and jump in booths, but come and ask, and ask, and ask. Be that student that’s always up asking us.
If you got an unexpected evening off, what would you do with that time?
I’m building a 30-by-40 shop at the house, so I might work on that. We’ve got some chickens; I’d be taking care of them. There’s plenty of stuff to do around the house. But more than likely I’d come home and spend the evening with the kids and doing yard work. Because I do work in the evenings, I miss the opportunity to hang out with the kids. When the kids get home from school, I’m usually at work.
Did you have a favorite tool out in the field? Something sentimental and/or practical?
There’s nothing necessarily sentimental, but I do have good quality tools. I have one adjustable 10” crescent wrench that I’ve had since I started. I’ve got my name and a little ground into it, so I know it’s mine. It’s the one tool that I’ve held onto this whole time. It’s actually at the welding school right now. It fits over gas bottles; it fits over pretty much everything a welder needs.
What was your favorite part of being in the field?
The traveling job was my favorite. I worked in Port Arthur, Texas, for close to a year. I worked near Davenport, Iowa, in Superior, Wisconsin, Cushing, Oklahoma. I got to see quite a bit and I stayed with the same crew. The camaraderie between us was great. I lived in the same house with them, or we’d all stay in the same trailer park when traveling around. Some of them had their wives and kids with them, but it would be just a giant family. I’m still in touch with them now. The pay was great, and honestly, that’s what drew me in. I was 20, maybe 21 and I was naturally nervous to start traveling, to leave my hometown where I’d always lived, but the pay drew me to it, and I ended up loving it. I did it till I was 26.
If you were to tell someone “Thank You” for helping you become you, who would it be and why?
I’ve seen my dad work hard my whole life, naturally. But I could probably pick one or two old timers out from every job I’ve worked; guys who took me under their wing to help me out. In my experience, there’s always some sort of camaraderie between the guys, and you can always learn something from everyone.